Lady Gaga wasn't quite born when the Grammy Awards began on Sunday, Feb. 13-she was still in her egg while she "walked" the red carpet. Later that evening, Gaga was birthed, or perhaps more accurately, rebirthed as, well, Lady Gaga.
She emerged from a now-larger egg onstage, and you could see this wasn't the same Gaga. In case you didn't catch the subtle (not a word often used to describe any part of Gaga onstage) touches: Her hair was off-pink with amniotic remnants. Her bones had structurally changed. Her shoulders now had positively Vulcan protrusions.
"My bones have changed in my face and shoulders," she says. "I am now able to reveal to the universe that when I was wearing jackets that looked like I was wearing shoulder pads, it was really just my bones underneath."If you're looking for a self-conscious wink in any of this, you'll probably be waiting for at least a few more Gaga life spans. There's no line between Stefani Germanotta, Gaga's birth name, and Lady Gaga. There's no onstage and offstage. There's only Gaga.
Gaga seemed in good spirits as we chatted, speaking in impassioned tones about her vision for the upcoming album, and just about anything else we asked. She even spoke for the first time about her new retail relationship with Target (see story, page 34).
Very few artists decide to build an entire aesthetic and musical campaign around the notion of evolution, and fewer have the courage and conviction to live with their vision offstage-to, in fact, make everywhere they go a stage to share that vision. Dennis DeYoung didn't walk the streets of 1983 as Mister Roboto, you know. But: That was then, and this is now.
Congratulations. "Born This Way" is the 1,000th No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
I can't believe it. I'm humbled, honored and overwhelmed at the reception to "Born This Way." This has been so life-changing for me. Between Billboard and the international No. 1s, and the radio numbers . . . I couldn't be more blessed to have the fans I have. I knew when I wrote the song it was special, but I also knew that perhaps my fans or my label were hoping for me to deliver "Bad Romance the Third" or "Poker Face the Third." I wanted to do exactly the opposite.
That's not to say that on the album there's not an incredible amount of breadth and eccentricity. It's quite eclectic. It ranges from "Born This Way" being very light to the rest of the album becoming quite darker. I in jest say that "Born This Way" is the marijuana to the heroins of the album, the ultimate intense intoxication of the record. It's an analogy.
No need to start more rumors, right?
No, please. I don't like rumors, especially not drug rumors. But the song, it's very literal and . . . I said, "I want to write my freedom record. I want to write my this-is-who-the-fuck-I-am anthem," but I don't want it to be hidden in poetic wizardry and metaphors. I want it to be an attack, an assault on the issue because I think, especially in today's music, everything gets kind of washy sometimes and the message gets hidden in the lyrical play.
Harkening back to the early '90s, when Madonna, En Vogue, Whitney Houston and TLC were making very empowering music for women and the gay community and all kind of disenfranchised communities, the lyrics and the melodies were very poignant and very gospel and very spiritual and I said, "That's the kind of record I need to make." That's the record that's going to shake up the industry. It's not about the track. It's not about the production. It's about the song [written by Stefani Germanotta and Jeppe Laursen; produced by Lady Gaga, Jeppe Laursen, Fernando Garibay and Paul "DJ White Shadow" Blair]. Anyone could sing "Born This Way." It could've been anyone.
I think this is the first No. 1 song that uses the word "transgendered." This is the first No. 1 song-and we're doing more research on this-out of these 1,000 that far and away is the most pro-LGBT kind of track. That's pretty remarkable. A bit of a landmark.
I wanted to put my money exactly where my mouth is. The Little Monsters all over the world as well as the gay community have been tremendously supportive over the years and I have in turn been supportive. Let's call a spade a spade. It's not like "The Fame" and "The Fame Monster" address those communities-not directly. This is my chance to create something that is not only supportive of my political and social beliefs-not just for the gay community, but for everyone . . . This is also my chance to artistically say, "I'm not being safe with this record." I'm not trying to gain new fans. I love the fans I already have, and this is for them.
If "The Fame" was about the draw of fame, success and money and "The Fame Monster" was an answer to what the fame can bring you-which wasn't terribly good news-what is "Born This Way"? You said it gets a little bit dark-do you write all of the songs or co-write them?
I write all the lyrics and the melodies to my songs, and I co-produce every single track on the album.
You create a vision and you deliver. Artists who write their own albums, each one becomes a bit of a chapter.
This album exists in two different hemispheres working together at the same time. On one end, the album is this world and each song represents these subworlds within the album but thematically range from identity to choice, life choice, to understanding who you are, but ultimately on the other side of the hemisphere, the nexus of "Born This Way" and the soul of the record reside in this idea that you were not necessarily born in one moment. You have your entire life to birth yourself into becoming the ultimate potential vision that you see for you. Who you are when you come out of your mother's womb is not necessarily who you will become. "Born This Way" says your birth is not finite, your birth is infinite.
Birth is a process of living.
It's a process of living and it's also not ultimately a goal. It's something ever-changing. Something you can ignite at any moment. My bones have changed in my face and in my shoulders because I am now able to reveal to the universe that when I was wearing shoulder pads or when I was wearing jackets that looked like I was wearing shoulder pads, it was really just my bones underneath. My fashion is part of who I am, and though I was not born with these clothes on, I was born this way.
Is that what the Grammy performance was about?
The Grammy performance was about many things but ultimately the song "Born This Way" . . . is visually and thematically and lyrically about birthing a new race, birthing a race within the race of already existing cultures of humanity-that bears no prejudice and no judgment. The whole performance was a Gregorian Alvin Ailey, had Martha Graham energy to it, and that was a statement in itself.
As a performer, does it help you to get into costume?
Well, it's part of who I am. My creativity is in my blood and in my bones as I said, and it takes time to become myself every morning.
Do you feel pressure about that? Like, you can't just be Stefani Germanotta any more? You have to be, any time you're out anywhere, Lady Gaga?
I don't agree with that statement.
Because you are Lady Gaga.
Gaga is Stefani Germanotta. I don't create any separation between my birth name and my subsequent birth name-Lady Gaga. That's the point of what I'm trying to say. Gaga is not manufactured . . . it is not artificial. I wish I could give that gift to everyone on the planet-the ability for you to create an idea and perceive of something, whether it be a name or a vision for yourself, and just choose to become it. The world, and I base this on the music industry, is obsessed with artists and glamour and creativity and fashion. And artistry has become something that people believe is artificial. For myself, it is my reality. I exist at all times halfway between reality and fantasy. That's the way I was born.
I just meant, on a very human level, we all have days where what we'd like to do is throw on a pair of sweats, go to the deli and get a cup of coffee.
I do things like that, although it may not be in sweat pants. When I do those things, my fans or Little Monsters, they don't see that as any different. It's all one whole. People try to view artists in these relative compartmentalizations of their life, like, "Oh, this is her at the grocery store, this is her onstage, this is her on the red carpet," and I guess what I was trying to say on the red carpet is that I'm always onstage.
The idea for the egg on the red carpet-where did that come from?
I was in Amsterdam on my tour bus. I was thinking about birth-about embryos. Even my hair color was a washed-out rose color . . . It was meant to be a hair expression, an afterbirth.
A little amniotic touch. Very nice.
Yes, and I thought to myself, "Gosh, the thing I hate most about doing award shows is, it can be distracting" . . . I want to exist only for my fans and for the stage. I don't want to exist in this machine or this circus that is the industry. I wish I could be encapsulated for three days and just think only about my performance, think only about the album, think only about the future of my fans. So that's what I did.
I don't know if you went to the Interscope party that Interscope Geffen A&M chairman Jimmy Iovine threw after the Grammys.
I only went for a moment. I'll do anything for Jimmy because I love and adore Jimmy. He's so supportive. Jimmy and [manager] Troy Carter and [executive producer] Vincent Herbert and [Universal Music Group chairman] Doug Morris and CEO Lucian Grainge. I couldn't have a more rock solid battleship of a team.
About the new album, what can you tell me?
The breadth of the album is enormous. My fans are going to enjoy the journey. One of my favorite songs on the album is the last song. It was originally going to be the first single. It's called "Marry the Night." It was produced by myself and Fernando Garibay. When Fernando and I did it, it was actually after I had written 'Born This Way,' but hadn't yet produced it. It was like this sonic light bulb went off and we were like, "That's the sound! That's the future." The lyrics are "I'm gonna marry the night, I won't give up on my life. I'm a warrior queen . . . I'm gonna make love to the stars . . . I'm a soldier to my own emptiness. I'm a winner." The record is just this massive, gas-station, disco record, music-that every single one of these songs could have been a hit record.
Do you care how many copies of this album sell, or sell in the first week?
It's not about the numbers. But I won't say that I'm not honored to be No. 1 on Billboard. Because it is a tremendous honor. And to be the 1,000th No. 1 on Billboard . . . I would be silly not to say this is the greatest honor of my career . . . To have sold so many singles so quickly and to be a message-not a song about a nightclub, not a song about sex-a message about love and positivity?
The hubbub about Madonna-do you have a point of view on that?
Everyone knows how much I love and adore Madonna. What a huge fan I am. I don't think there is a female on the planet that is not inspired by Madonna . . . on so many levels. I was honored to hear from her-I've met her in the past and worked with her and . . . she was so supportive and loving and . . . I think what people are hearing, to be precise, is the spirit of the early '90s. It's not just Madonna, it's Whitney Houston, it's En Vogue, it's TLC. It was a '90s-dance-early-gospel-fusion-with-pop-music, and that's precisely what I intended for it to sound like.
The video for "Born This Way," it's coming shortly.
Yes. I saw the edit of it today and it's amazing. I did it with Nick Knight, co-directed it with him and Lauren Gibson and the Haus-so it's really a Haus of Gaga directorial debut with Nick Knight. It . . . looks completely different than everything I've ever done.
Can you give a teaser, a sense of what fans can expect?
Um, it is the birth of the new race. Really deep stuff.
How did you decide what producers to work with for "Born This Way"? Do you ever consider working with, or does Interscope ever suggest you work with a mainstream hitmaker?
Interscope-I say this with love-they don't have anything to do with my creative process.
So how do you decide who to work with?
I wanted to work with RedOne again because we have this incredible magic together. We did a song called "Judas," a song called "Hair" . . .
What is that magic that he brings?
He has no ego.
"No ego." How does that translate in the studio? Being open to ideas?
It translates as musical hippies . . . [The producers I work with] are unbelievably talented, open-minded and in touch with the underground dance community as well as orchestral movie soundtrack music as well as rock music, metal music.
I think in the music industry, something has happened where the producers have begun to think or believe-or the industry has begun to think or believe-that the producer makes the hits. This is the most dangerous thing that has happened to this business. Because it takes the credibility away from the singer and from the artist. It's unfair to the artist. What I've experienced working with these producers . . . We work as a unit . . . If I want to lay down a synth line, they're like, "Let's do it." If I change that beat . . . It's a process . . . We sit around on laptops, we'll work on our different computers, different programs, and then we pass everything around on USB sticks and then we convert it to the proper file format to put it into one computer. And actually, Fernando Garibay was the musical director of the whole album. That's the key to the success of the music industry-allowing the artist to creatively run the ship.
There are certain artists who aren't able to run the ship.
Or maybe they are, but producers are getting in their way. I'll probably get in trouble for saying that, but I don't care, because I'm looking out for the future of this industry. And I believe so much that this industry is being revitalized every day in more and more areas . . . we can sell millions and millions of records in the first week, like we used to.
But we have to remember that music began with the artist . . . I cannot thank Troy Carter and Vincent enough for how they have supported me over the years. They believe in me so much. I will never leave Troy. I will never leave Vincent. Until my artistic death, I will be loyal to them because they are the truth of this industry.
Can you explain their respective roles?
Troy is my manager, and Vincent is my A&R, but with the new structure, the 360 deals with the music business, Vincent is essentially my partner. We work on everything together. They let the Haus of Gaga creatively run everything that I do and everything that we do. Troy is tremendously talented. Vincent is tremendously talented. They've never tried to re-create me, because it can't be done.
••••Bill Werde is editorial director of Billboard. Follow @bwerde on Twitter.